Saturday, January 9, 2010

Remembering Lee Van Cleef

Born Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr. on January 9, 1925 in Somerville, New Jersey. He was raised in a farming community and enlisted in the Navy during World War II right out of high school. After the war he became a systems analysist and then became a stage actor appearing with Henry Fonda in “Mr. Roberts”. He was signed to a part in the film “High Noon” (1952) by producer Stanley Kramer. During the 1950s he was seen in films such as “Tribute to a Bad Man” (1956) with James Cagney, “The Tin Star” (1957) with Henry Fonda, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957) with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and many TV series usually playing a villain. By the early '60s his career had slowed to a point he could not pay his phone bill and he was working as a painter. Sergio Leone signed him to play Colonel Dougas Mortimer opposite Clint Eastwood in “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and he became an international star. Following up with 16 more Eurowesterns including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), “The Big Gundown” (1966), “Day of Anger”, “Death Rides a Horse” both 1967. Lee was smart enough to stay in Europe where he was a huge box-office star. He continued to make Italian films until the end of his career. He lived part time in the U.S. but was only a cult hero here in such American films as “The Octagon” (1980) with Chuck Norris and “Escape from New York” (1981) with Kurt Russell. He was the one American actor that is associated with the Spaghetti westerns more than any other. Sadly Lee died of a heart attack on December 16, 1989 at the age of 64. Today we remember Lee Van Cleef, a true icon of the Eurowestern, on what would have been his 85th birthday.

1 comment:

  1. I understand that when he arrived to Italy, he figured it would only be a day or two of work in a small part. He couldn't believe it when told he was one of the leads in a major role. He did such a good job that he became a major international star.

    Everyone who has been asked about working with Lee says the same thing -- he was a professional who always showed up on time, always knew his lines, and never argued with the director.